The Pursuit of Beauty

Women love beauty. We love observing it, creating it, and displaying it around us. At our core, we are beauty seekers, and we exhibit this in all sorts of ways. Some love fashion and makeup and creating all the right combinations of both. Others love growing and arranging flowers or creating the perfect tablescape for a Holiday meal. Many of us cannot resist capturing a child’s adorable face or a beautiful sunset through the lens of a camera or with a paintbrush. Others create and display beauty by lettering an invitation in just the right script, playing music with an instrument, turning food into a delicious meal, decorating a home, or writing a story.

In addition to this desire to create and reflect beauty, we all have a strong longing in the deepest part of our hearts to be truly beautiful. This desire has fueled countless industries and, whether we realize it or not, has led each of us on a quest for personal beauty—a quest which, sadly, has left many empty and dissatisfied. Why? Why does authentic beauty often feel so unattainable? Is personal beauty something we shouldn’t pursue…or do we just look for it in the wrong places?

The Glory of True Beauty

Our deep desire for beauty is not arbitrary, unfounded or negative because God Himself is the essence of true beauty and the Creator of all things beautiful. And we are created in His image! In Psalm 27:4, David records his longing to “gaze upon the beauty of the Lord.” God is Spirit, so when David references the Lord’s beauty, he is not referring to God’s physical appearance but to the attributes of His character. One writer says, “The beauty of the Lord can be defined as God possessing everything in His character that is desirable.” God’s perfection,holiness, goodness, purity and glory are the substance of His beauty, and He created the world to put this beauty on display.

The heavens, earth and all their hosts were created to be a beautiful and visible reflection of God’s glorious and invisible nature (Psalm 19:1). And the truth of our own personal beauty was sealed when the Creator of all beauty looked upon the first man and woman made in His image and declared them to be “very good”. As Sally Lloyd Jones puts it, “They were lovely because He loved them.”

The Veiling of True Beauty

But all too soon, the perfect beauty of God’s creation was marred substantially by the ugliness of evil. Rather than finding her worth in the love and beauty of her Creator, the eyes of our first mother Eve were captivated by a lesser beauty: the beauty of a piece of fruit. Eve believed the lie that to eat from the one tree of the garden forbidden by her loving Creator she would somehow be a wiser, happier, more beautiful version of herself.

The serpent promised that by eating the fruit, Eve’s eyes would be opened and she would be like God (Gen 3:5). The truth is, Eve was already like God—made in His image to reflect His beauty in the world. Eve didn’t want to be like God. She wanted to be God. She ate of the fruit, and through this disobedience, her eyes were opened to the reality of evil and ugliness. Eve’s sin exposed her. It separated her from the Beautiful one, the one in whom she was meant to find her own beauty. Eve saw her naked body, and for the first time, she felt immense shame. She hid from God and sought to cover herself (Gen 3:7)

But it was God who mercifully clothed Adam and Eve in the skins of animals, and those animals had to die to provide the covering (Gen 3:21). The wages of sin has always been death, and blood has always been required to cover the one exposed by sin and shame. In the future, God would allow many more animals to die as substitutes for human sinners, but the death of these animals only provided a temporary solution. Because animals can cover shame for a time, but they can’t recover true beauty in a sin-corrupted heart.

Since Eve sinned, all of her daughters have been on a lifelong mission to cover our shame and recover true beauty. But sin has distorted our understanding of true beauty, so we pursue a counterfeit. We think, “If I could just lose fifteen pounds, have a better tan, and afford nicer clothes; I would be beautiful. If I looked more like her, maybe I would measure up.” We often chase after external, temporal beauty for a sense of worthiness, and we do so not to put God’s glory on display but to put our glory on display. We compare ourselves to other women and internally compete with one another, rather than observing the unique beauty of the Imago Dei in each other. True beauty—the Beauty of God Himself—has been veiled to our eyes by our sin, and we are left wanting.

Adorned: Clothed in The Beauty of Christ

But we need not continue wanting. The good news of the gospel is this: Jesus Christ came to earth in human flesh so the true beauty of God might be revealed and recovered. The apostle John tells us that Jesus is the revelation of God’s glory (John 1:14). Paul says that Christ is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).

While there was nothing particularly attractive in Jesus’s physical appearance (Isaiah 53:2b), He revealed the nature of true beauty because he perfectly embodied the holiness, goodness, purity and glory of God in a way we could see. As the sinless God-man, His blood alone provided the necessary sacrifice to not only cover our shame but also clothe us in His perfect righteousness—a beauty that doesn’t fade with time (Rom 3:22).

This beauty is ours for the taking if we will stop desperately trying to cover our own shame with everything the world promises will make us whole and instead look to Jesus in faith, saying with the prophet Isaiah, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in “my God, for he has clothed me with garments of salvation; he has covered me with a robe of righteousness. . .as a bride adorns herself with jewels” (Isaiah 61:10). This is what it means to be a woman adorned by the gospel.

Adorn: Reflecting The Beauty of the Gospel Together

Author and teacher Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth says, “To be adorned with another’s love is to develop a greater capacity to reflect love and beauty to others.” We are adorned with the righteousness of Christ to mirror His love to a world that has no concept of true beauty. How do we do this? How do we make the good news of the gospel attractive to the watching world by the way we live our lives?

The Greek word for “adorn” is “kosmeo’’. This word is the root of the English term “cosmetics”, i.e. what adorns (“orders”) the face. So, when the apostle Peter tells believing women “Your adornment must not be merely external—but let it be the hidden person of the heart . . .” (1 Peter 3:3-4) he is telling them to focus less on beautifying their faces and more on beautifying their hearts. When Paul tells Timothy that Christian women should adorn themselves with good works rather than ostentatious clothing (1 Timothy 2:9-10), he is saying, “Show the world that your beauty and worth come from the righteousness of Christ, not the clothes you wear.”

This is a lovely thought, isn’t it? But how do we practice this? There are thousands of fashion blogs, makeup tutorials, and fitness videos all over the internet, but not as many people are  sharing how-to’s on cultivating a beautiful heart.

And how do we reflect the beauty of the gospel when life is hard? When the baby isn’t sleeping at night or the car breaks down…when a husband walks away from a marriage or the scans reveal cancer…when depression, anxiety, fear or indwelling sin feel unshakable…how do we then adorn the beauty of Christ?

The truth? None of us can do it alone. God never intended for us to reflect the beauty of the gospel as individuals but, rather, collectively. He gave us His Spirit and His Church as helpers, and he gave us each other. And when we have been adorned with the righteousness of Christ, cultivating the true beauty of good works is not a competition but a race we run together.

This is what women’s ministry is all about: Older believing women involved in the lives of younger believing women, teaching them “what is good” (Titus 2:3-4). We all need the godly wisdom and instruction of an older woman in the faith poured into us as we seek to reflect Christ in our work, our marriages or singleness, our parenting, and our friendships. And we all need to be the older woman in a younger sister’s life.

This only happens if we live life together—transparently sharing burdens and struggles as well as truth and encouragement, studying the Word of God and speaking that Word into each other’s lives, praying together, opening our hearts and homes, and consistently pointing each other back to the truly Beautiful one. We must remind each other that a day is coming when we, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (Rev 21:2), will behold the beauty of Christ face to face and cry out:

Hallelujah! For the Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure–for the the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. -Revelation 19:6-8

And when this day comes, our pursuit will be over. We will have obtained true beauty once and for all.

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